Round one is in the books and what a crazy round it was. Pretty much all of the Cup favourites lost, with all four wild card teams taking out the division leaders. The playoffs are now wide open and it’s going to come down to who can get hot and string together 12 more wins.
I had an awful first round with my picks. I think I only correctly picked San Jose, so take these picks with that in mind.
Boston Bruins (2) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (WC2)
The Blue Jackets rolled through the Lightning in the first round and I think they have as good a shot as anyone at winning the Cup now. This team always had the personnel to be an elite team, but everything seems to be finally coming together for them at the right time. Add in the extra rest and this Blue Jackets team should be able to play a very heavy game and potentially beat the Bruins at their own game.
This is a series where I think the teams are very evenly matched, but I’m giving the nod to the Blue Jackets based on their rest. This is a dog or pass spot for sure.
Play: Blue Jackets 2.25 @ SportsInteraction.com
New York Islanders (2) vs Carolina Hurricanes (WC1)
The Hurricanes came back from two 2-goal deficit’s to defeat the defending champions in game 7 overtime yesterday. This showed me a ton of character and belief in this squad. I was also very impressed with the defense of players like Slavin, Hamilton, Faulk, Pesce and De Haan. This is a Hurricanes team that has skill and size up front with players who know how to win.
The Islanders cruised past the Penguins winning several close games, and the fact that they had over a week of rest could pay dividends in this series. That said, I just think that the Hurricanes have the more talented lineup and eventually that will be a difference for the Isles.
I think the Hurricanes can hang into tight games with the Islanders and come out on top. I also believe they have the size, talent and cycle to get shots on net against Robin Lehner and look for rebounds. Lehner is the type of goaltender who will make the first save, but his scrambling is not elite. If the Hurricanes can get the puck on net and get some goals going to the dirty areas I think they will be able to score against the Isles, who have been the best defensive team in the league in the regular season and playoffs.
Play: Hurricanes 2.05
St. Louis Blues (3) vs Dallas Stars (WC1)
This is an interesting series that is sure to be very low scoring and come down to a few bounces. The Stars gave up the second fewest goals in the league during the regular season (202), while the Blues gave up the fifth fewest (223). Both teams have been able to continue to keep the puck out of their nets in the first round, which is why we have this series.
Although I do think it will come down to a few bounces, I think the Blues are in the better position to break down the opposing teams defense. The Stars rely a lot on their top line and I think the top four D-men on St. Louis (Pietrangelo, Gunnarsson, Bouwmeester and Parayko) will have a better chance of shutting down this line, than the Stars lineup that is more spread out with talent.
The Blues goaltending has been their problem in the past, but Jordan Binnington looks like a man on a mission since taking over the starting role on this team. I can’t bet against him at this time.
Play: Blues 1.65
San Jose Sharks (2) vs Colorado Avalanche (WC2)
This will be a tough series for the Sharks, especially after having to go to overtime to win the last two games against Vegas, and the emotional toll it takes having to face elimination 3 games in a row to get out of the first round. The Sharks will need to take full advantage of their two games off before game 1 of this series, and I think the Avs may have the advantage to take the early lead in this series due to the fatigue factor.
That said, I still think the Sharks are the better team and winning 3 straight also shows a lot of character and this team will have a ton of belief coming into this series. The Sharks also seem to be healthy coming out of that hard fought series with Vegas, with all reports pointing to the fact Pavelski should be ready to go. Also, with Vlasic in the lineup for full games the Sharks went 4-0 against the Golden Knights, which shows just how important he is in addition to the two big name D in Burns and Karlsson.
The Sharks have three lines that can score, while the Avs really rely on the MacKinnon line and the their powerplay. I think the Sharks forwards will expose the Avs defense, while the Sharks will be able to at least slow down MacKinnon, Landeskog, Rantanen and company.
This won’t be an easy series, but the better team should win.
Play: Sharks 1.69